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Generously giving money is an early sign that an elderly person could be suffering from dementia

Kindness or mindless? Giving money generously is an early sign that an elderly person may be suffering from dementia, study finds

  • Older people who are more generous and spend their money score worse on cognitive tests and are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease
  • Researchers found that some older people whose brains were in worse shape were more likely to give money to a stranger
  • They warn that an elderly person’s family and carers should be concerned if they suddenly become more altruistic
  • Elderly people are often attacked by scammers, with an estimated $3 billion stolen each year

Altruism in old age may not be a sign of generosity later in life, but instead a warning that a loved one is suffering from dementia, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC), in Los Angeles, found that older adults who were more willing to give money away to a person they don’t know perform worse on cognitive exams and are more at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

The study links the widely acclaimed behavior of altruism to a serious medical condition and could serve as a warning to some caregivers.

It has long been known that the elderly are more vulnerable to scams and plots to get money from them because of their deteriorated mental state, but this study shows that even positive examples can indicate some danger.

Researchers found that older people who are more likely to give money away to a stranger have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's and score worse on cognitive exams (file photo)

Researchers found that older people who are more likely to give money away to a stranger have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s and score worse on cognitive exams (file photo)

“Problems with money is considered one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and this finding supports that idea,” said Dr. Duke Han, a neuropsychology professor at USC who led the study, said in a statement.

Researchers, who published their findings in the Alzheimer’s Journalgathered 67 older adults around age 70 for the study.

Each participant was paired ten with another person they had never met before in a lab setting, and handed ten dollars to split between themselves and the other.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the relationship using a behavioral economics paradigm, that is, a scenario where participants had to make decisions about whether to give or keep real money,” Dr. Gali Weissberger, a principal investigator from Bar-Ilan University in Israel, said.

The older participants were also given neurological tests to assess their current cognitive state and their potential risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers found that those who were willing to give more money to a person they had never met before also tended to be in a worse cognitive state and tested higher for Alzheimer’s risk.

“Findings of this study indicate a negative relationship between financial altruism and cognitive functioning in older adults on measures known to be susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease,” researchers wrote in the study.

dr.  Duke Han (pictured), a neuropsychology professor at USC, said trouble managing money correctly could be an early sign of Alzheimer's

dr. Duke Han (pictured), a neuropsychology professor at USC, said trouble managing money correctly could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s

“Findings also point to a possible link between the risk of financial exploitation and Alzheimer’s disease in old age.”

Researchers warn that people should be wary of these sudden changes in behavior and not just assume that their loved one has suddenly become more generous in old age.

Han definitely says giving money away isn’t a bad thing, and some may choose to just be more generous as they get older.

“The last thing we would want is for people to think that financial altruism among older adults is a bad thing…it can certainly be a deliberate and positive use of someone’s money,” he said.

This study is quite small, and researchers want to further explore the link between cognitive decline and increased generosity.

The elderly are known to be the main targets of financial scams, in part because they may not be as astute as they were in their younger years.

Some also report that the loneliness and isolation of some puts them at greater risk.

Many elderly people are also cut out of their finances and may lose track of how much money they really have because their family or a caregiver may later take control of their bills.

According to data collected by the US Senate, an estimated $3 billion is stolen each year from older Americans by scammers.

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